I was asked to answer this question on Quora. Here’s my long drawn out analysis.
Can the Nuggets get the top seed out West? With 13 games left the Nuggets are 5 games out of first. Of course, I’m the optimistic Nuggets fan. So I say YES. As the pragmatic analyst though, let’s look at what has to happen.
Win at Home
At home the Nuggets face the following teams – 76ers, Kings, Nets, Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Suns.
The first bit of good news is 8 of their remaining 13 games are at home. The Nuggets have only lost there 3 times this season! (And as luck would have it, I was sitting mere rows from the court two of those times)
5 of the teams they face have losing records (76ers, Kings, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, and Suns). The Mavericks are on a back to back, so it could be tricky. That said, those 5 are completely winnable.
The other 3 games are against the Nets, the Rockets, and the Spurs. While the Nets and Rockets are winning teams, I easily think the Nuggets can take them. The key team here is the Spurs. They’re the team the Nuggets are 5 games back on. If the Nuggets beat them, they gain a full game.
Conclusion – Nuggets need to go 8-0 at home
Alright, away games. They only have five, which is good. They face the Hornets (yes, easy win!), the Spurs (tough but must win!), the Jazz (ouch, Jazz have good HCA too.), the Mavericks (I think we take it) and the Bucks (good team but winnable)
The key game here is the Spurs. We have to win this game or the home game against them, preferably both. I think we can afford to lose one road game if we take the Spurs.
Conclusion – Nuggets need to go 4-1 on road, beat the Spurs and can lose to the Jazz.
Enough to win it?
That puts the Nuggets at 12-1, and they gain two games on the Spurs. The Spurs have 15 games left and the Thunder have 14 games left. Can we pick up enough losses from those two?
Here’s the good news. The Nuggets have the tie-breaker against the Thunder. IF they pick up those two wins against the Spurs, they’ll have the tie-breakers against the Spurs too. I’m picturing the Nuggets to finish 59-23. That means we need 7 losses from the Spurs down the stretch and 5 losses from the Thunder. Can we do it? YES WE CAN!
The Spurs Lose
The Spurs lose twice to the Nuggets. Only five to go! The Spurs play the at the Rockets, vs. the Clippers, vs. the Heat, at the Grizzlies on a back to back, at the Thunder, at the Warriors on a back to back.
I think they can lose 5 out of these 6. It’ll be close. The other teams the Spurs play are much worse than them though.
Conclusion – Spurs need to go 8-7 and lose twice to the Nuggets.
The Thunder Lose
The Thunder are a harder story. Here are games I see them potentially losing – At the Grizzlies (tonight on Back to Back), vs. the Spurs, at the Pacers (on Back to Back), vs. the Knicks, at the Jazz, at the Warriors (maybe? I can hope!)
Here’s the bad news with that. One of their losses is against the Spurs. Of course, I need the Spurs to lose as well. It’ll be tough.
Conclusion – Thunder need to go 9-5 and lose to at least two mediocre teams.
The Grizzlies lose
In examining hopeful losses, I realize the Grizzlies may tear through the top of the West. The Grizzlies hold the tie-breaker against the Nuggets. That means they need to finish with 58 or fewer wins. That means they need at least three losses down the stretch.
The Grizzlies play the Celtics at home on a back to back, at the Knicks, vs. the Rockets, at the Trail Blazers, at the Lakers, at the Rockets, and vs. the Clippers. That’s 7 games they can lose. We just need them to lose three! I think it happens!
I didn’t realize this but a lot of my hopes rest on the Warriors and Knicks somehow remembering they can play. Is this possible? Yes! But it will require near perfection from the Nuggets, the Spurs losing every tough game on their schedule, and the Thunder slipping. I’ll stay optimistic but candidly, it will be very tough. That said, it would make the end of the season super exciting.